What Makes a BA a Senior Business Analyst?
The journey to becoming a business analyst is different for everyone. There is no single education, experience, or career route that says “ok, now you are ready to be a business analyst”.
There are traits that separate a junior BA, from a mid-level BA, from a senior BA. There comes a point in their career that the senior BA exhibits confidence, understanding of context, and critical thinking that separates them from junior and mid-level BAs.
These traits are what separates a BA that ‘gets it’ from someone that needs direction in order to get it. A business analyst that is able to confidently make connections quickly, turn complex to simple, and can apply critical thinking to problem-solving is a senior business analyst.
Confidence is a Senior BA Trait.
Confidence comes from taking risks. It starts with confidence in yourself and your abilities; knowing that you can try things and learn. Learning comes through failure. You can't be afraid to fail.
Confidence in yourself is demonstrated through speaking up, trying something new, contributing. Confident business analysts start conversations based on the information that is available right now; they don’t wait until they “know everything”.
Make a straw man diagram, a problem statement, a decomposition diagram, ask a question. Often, the BA that starts the conversation may not have the problem, diagram or question finalized. The reaction is some variation of' No! That's not right '. It takes confidence to be willing to start something knowing it may not be correct, or there will be some criticism of your work. That' No' reaction is the start to get it right.
Senior BAs are willing to be the sacrificial lamb that structures the conversation - and they have thick skins!
Confidence is gained in knowing you have the tools and experience to help teams dig in and find the real problem, not just the surface problem and then help determine solutions. Senior business analysts they do not come up with the solutions, they facilitate the conversations that bring the solution to light.
Confidence is built step by step as you learn to listen, assess and communicate with individuals and groups in a way that fosters trust, and the sharing of information. Keep at it and you will see this trait grow until you explode with the ability to lead.
Every mountain climb starts with a single step and sometimes that step feels like it's off the edge of Mount Everest! The team will see you as a leader to help them on the climb, and they will trust you to deliver.
Why is Context a Trait for a Senior BA?
Merriam-Webster has this to say about the history of the word context:
In its earliest uses (documented in the 15th century), context meant "the weaving together of words in language." This sense, now obsolete, developed logically from the word's source in Latin, contexere "to weave or join together." Context now most commonly refers to the environment or setting in which something (whether words or events) exists. When we say that something is contextualized, we mean that it is placed in an appropriate setting, one in which it may be properly considered.
Without considering the appropriate setting, analysis will be focused on the incorrect things.
A senior business analyst must organize the context for analysis. Context is a combination of the problem, scope, premises, and constraints. It is not a single thing, but a mix of several things.
Ask a BA a question and the answer will often be “it depends”. As annoying as this answer is, it is true (my family really gets annoyed with that one sometimes!).
The answer is dependent on the context of the question. In order to understand where I need to focus my time, I have to understand the context. I can do anything, but I can't do everything!
The business analyst that stops the team to clarify purpose and understand the parts of context before diving into the details of the answer is a senior BA. Ascertaining the real problem and understanding assumptions and constraints is essential to how the team will approach the answer. Business analysts at a more junior level may jump right in with defining a solution based on the answer to a question without first asking more questions to ensure assumptions have been cleared and that they are at the root problem and not creating what ends up being a band aid solution (fixing the easily identified problem, not the root cause).
Often organizations don’t see this work as part of business analysis. It’s not ‘gathering requirements.' Clarifying context is the essence of business analysis. Context is like the framing for a new home. It is the foundation to putting the details together in an organized cohesive picture. Once context, (the frame), is understood, the rest of the pieces of the home will fit together much more easily.
Understanding context involves a shift in in thinking process. It is a high-level understanding across an organization, before diving into the details. It involves developing your brain to stop, think, and define a number of problems. Junior analysts will typically move too quickly to the details to start solutioning. Context is starting high level and then breaking down into details before moving to solutions. Context takes practice and is a trait exhibited by senior business analysts.
Business Analysis is a Thinking Profession – We’re Knowledge Workers.
Thinking about the process, data, business rules, regulations, and external agents is what we do.
Writing the requirement is an entry level business analysis skill – anybody can write down what they want a solution to do.
The thinking behind the analysis that identifies the correct requirement is not entry level.
Senior business analysts use critical thinking to solve problems – and that takes time and experience to do well. Business analysts need time to sit and think; to ponder the impacts of changes in every aspect of the process. This is one reason I feel that the cubicle workspace – or even worse, the bullpen – works against analysis. It’s a distracting environment.
Thinking at the speed of light, then making decisions on how to move forward should be second nature for senior BAs.
The start of an effort can feel like a swirling windstorm. The wind whips you around, and you feel like you don’t know which direction to move in.
Critical thinking pulls teams out of the churning wind. Making a decision to stop churning and decide on a direction to start with is a senior business analyst trait.
Thinking impacts the analysis approach. How do I break down the work? Which elicitation techniques do I use? Who do I talk to first? Who else do I need to talk to? How long will it take me? Thinking and more thinking and then moving forward. It starts with the idea, then the confidence to voice the idea to clarify the context. It also takes knowledge and context in order to confidently and accurately answer the question we get all the time about “time” – how long is it going to take you to do analysis? And our favorite follow-up questions – do you really need that long? Why?
How confident are you in your answer when you get asked those questions? And just as important, how accurate are you, really, in your answer?
Junior business analysts tend to jump in the deep end and start paddling. It’s not that you won’t stay afloat, but it is exhausting work to keep from drowning. Senior business analysts recognize the importance of taking time to prepare an approach up front which allows them to swim at a steadier pace without getting exhausted or drowning in the process!
Understand the entire context and then connect the dots to define the real problem before the team starts defining the solution. Constantly evaluate what you know, what you don’t know and what’s important for you to know, don’t get stuck in analysis paralysis.
Understanding how to do this and having a repeatable framework will move you to that senior BA position faster than anything else I know of.